Florida response teams doing ‘whatever it takes’ behind the scenes for Sandy
Dec 5, 2012
By BARBARA DENMAN
Florida Baptist Convention

TIES Pastor Fernandez (r) a Cuban native who has pastored First Spanish Baptist, Passiac, N.J. 17 years, told Roger Wolfe of Florida Baptist Disaster Relief he was helped when he lived in Miami years ago. He asked for DR training for his church. NAMB photo
EDISON, N.J. (FBC)—On a snowy morning the last week in November, Joan Lancaster rose at 6 a.m. from her air mattress on the floor of a Sunday School classroom at Raritan Valley Baptist Church in Edison, N.J. to fix a breakfast of corn beef and scrambled eggs for the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief Command Center workers stationed there.

The Tampa resident who is not accustomed to biting cold from temperatures that never inched above 30 degrees didn’t complain though as she and the other Florida volunteers serving in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy coped with frozen water lines for portable showers and separated ice-covered lettuce leaves.

Driving into town that morning for supplies, she was stopped by the Walmart greeter who asked about her    instantly recognizable yellow disaster relief jacket. After hearing why the Floridian has braved the harsh winter weather, the man effusively hugged and thanked        Lancaster and her DR companions.

Lancaster and her husband, Al, members of Idlewild Baptist Church, will be in Edison six weeks, “doing laundry, picking up trash and just taking care of people,” she said. 

READY Mickey Caison (center at table facing camera) North American Mission Board Disaster Relief team leader directs the morning meeting of the New York Incident Command Center hosted at Raritan Valley Baptist Church in Edison, N.J. The majority of ICC team are Florida Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers. NAMB photo
It’s not a job on the front lines of the Southern Baptist disaster response where other volunteers are cooking mass quantities of food or scraping mud from homes of the victims of “Superstorm Sandy.” The storm devastated parts of the nation’s most heavily populated region Oct. 29. 

In their new roles, Lancaster and other Florida volunteers rarely relate to the storm’s survivors. Instead they are providing logistical support, working behind the scenes as unsung servants. 

“It’s a background role,” said Fritz Wilson, SBDR executive director, “One that often goes unfilled but is a great need.”

Wilson, who until recently directed Florida’s DR team, said he specifically enlisted Florida volunteers to serve in this support role “because I know Florida Baptist disaster relief volunteers will do whatever it takes to make it work.”

Immediately after the storm, SBCDR called out Florida Baptists’ two mass mobile feeding units and more than 60 volunteers loaded buses to make the thousand-mile trek to the affected area. But before they began the roll out, they were turned back due to lack of logistical support available in the Northeast.

Many of the same volunteers who were prepared to staff feeding units in that initial call are serving in different responsibilities than originally planned. 

“Without them, we could not make the same impact we are making now,” said Wilson. 

By the end of November, 40 Florida volunteers have been deployed to New Jersey to help in the disaster response. Others are expected to be sent during the coming months. 

Volunteer Pat Tomlinson from First Baptist Church of Ocala put it simply, “We are keeping the Command Center happy so they can coordinate the work.”

The Command Center leaders have a significant responsibility, Tomlinson said, leading the massive efforts that include developing strategies while enlisting and positioning teams from across the nation. Many have been in Edison for the past six weeks and others will remain there until January. 

Tomlinson and his wife, Deborah, coordinated the cooking duties from Nov. 26 until Dec. 4, feeding three meals a day from the church’s kitchen facilities. “I like to help where help is needed,” he said, “As Christians we are called to serve our fellow man and that in turn glorifies God.” 

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